Research promises breakthrough in internet bandwidth (w/ Video)

June 27, 2013

As rapidly increasing demand for bandwidth strains the Internet's capacity, a team of engineers has devised a new fiber optic technology that promises to increase bandwidth dramatically. The new technology could enable Internet providers to offer much greater connectivity – from decreased network congestion to on-demand video streaming.

Described in the June 28 issue of the journal Science, the technology centers on donut-shaped laser light beams called , in which the light twists like a tornado as it moves along the beam path, rather than in a straight line.

Widely studied in molecular biology, and , optical vortices (also known as , or OAM, beams) were thought to be unstable in fiber, until BU Engineering Professor Siddharth Ramachandran recently designed an that can propagate them. In the paper, he and Alan Willner of USC demonstrate not only the stability of the beams in optical fiber but also their potential to boost Internet bandwidth.

"For several decades since optical fibers were deployed, the conventional assumption has been that OAM-carrying beams are inherently unstable in fibers," said Ramachandran. "Our discovery, of design classes in which they are stable, has for a variety of scientific and technological fields that have exploited the unique properties of OAM-carrying light, including the use of such beams for enhancing data capacity in fibers."

The video will load shortly
Researchers were able increase data flow through fiber optic cables by moving light through them in a spiral motion, rather than a straight line. Credit: P. Gregg

The reported research represents a close collaboration between optical fiber experts at BU and experts at USC. "Siddharth's fiber represents a very unique and valuable innovation. It was great to work together to demonstrate a terabit-per-second capacity transmission link," said Willner, electrical engineering professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Ramachandran and Willner collaborated with OFS-Fitel, a fiber optics company in Denmark, and Tel Aviv University.

Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the technology could not come at a better time, as one of the main strategies to boost Internet bandwidth is running into roadblocks just as mobile devices fuel rapidly growing demands on the Internet. Traditionally, bandwidth has been enhanced by increasing the number of colors, or wavelengths of data-carrying laser signals—essentially streams of 1s and 0s—sent down an optical fiber, where the signals are processed according to color. Increasing the number of colors has worked well since the 1990s when the method was introduced, but now that number is reaching physical limits.

An emerging strategy to boost bandwidth is to send the light through a fiber along distinctive paths, or modes, each carrying a cache of data from one end of the fiber to the other. Unlike the colors, however, data streams of 1s and 0s from different modes mix together; determining which data stream came from which source requires computationally intensive and energy-hungry digital signal processing algorithms.

Ramachandran's and Willner's approach combines both strategies, packing several colors into each mode, and using multiple modes. Unlike in conventional fibers, OAM modes in these specially designed fibers can carry data streams across an optical fiber while remaining separate at the receiving end. In experiments appearing in the Science paper, Ramachandran created an OAM fiber with four modes (an optical fiber typically has two), and he and Willner showed that for each OAM mode, they could send data through a one-kilometer fiber in 10 different colors, resulting in a transmission capacity of 1.6 terabits per second, the equivalent of transmitting eight Blu-RayTM DVDs every second.

Explore further: Researchers create novel optical fibers

Related Stories

Researchers create novel optical fibers

April 17, 2013

(Phys.org) —Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) have found a new mechanism to transmit light through optical fibers. Their discovery marks the first practical application of a Nobel-Prize-winning ...

Data highway for quantum information

June 12, 2013

Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology quantum mechanically couple atoms to glass fiber cables. Now, they have shown that their technique enables storage of quantum information over a sufficiently long period ...

Researchers make optical fibers from common materials

August 13, 2012

Clemson researchers are taking common materials to uncommon places by transforming easily obtainable and affordable materials into fiber. Their findings are published in Nature Photonics, the world's top journal focused on ...

Recommended for you

Uncovering the secrets of water and ice as materials

December 7, 2016

Water is vital to life on Earth and its importance simply can't be overstated—it's also deeply rooted within our conscience that there's something extremely special about it. Yet, from a scientific point of view, much remains ...

Blocks of ice demonstrate levitated and directed motion

December 7, 2016

Resembling the Leidenfrost effect seen in rapidly boiling water droplets, a disk of ice becomes highly mobile due to a levitating layer of water between it and the smooth surface on which it rests and melts. The otherwise ...

The case for co-decaying dark matter

December 5, 2016

(Phys.org)—There isn't as much dark matter around today as there used to be. According to one of the most popular models of dark matter, the universe contained much more dark matter early on when the temperature was hotter. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.